What If? Rejects 2 Warm-Up

So, a few years ago, I wrote a series of posts on this blog called “What If? Rejects.” (You can read that series from the beginning starting here.) This series was based on the book What If? by Randall Munroe, better known for the webcomic XKCD.

What If? was billed as “Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions,” a series that Randall started on his website, in which he solicited silly questions from readers like, “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?” And then, he would analyze the answers to these questions scientifically.

However, in What If?, Randall also listed a number of “weird (and worrying) questions” that he didn’t answer, but just included for laughs.

Well, I decided to answer them. Few of them really couldn’t be answered, at least if we’re willing to venture a bit further into the realm of science fiction, so I decided I’d go for it. There were 27 questions in total, and I was able to give what I considered to be decent answers to all but two of them.

So you can imagine that when Randall announced he was publishing What If? 2 this September, I was very excited. The book itself is sure to be a lot of fun to start with, just like the first one. But I really hope Randall includes some rejected questions in the book again, because if he does…I’m on it.

I was encouraged in this hope when, a couple weeks ago, Randall published a comic listing categories of questions that he refused to answer in the second book, with examples. He’s not answering them for a reason, but I’m not quite as selective as Randall. (It’s not my book, after all.) So, as a warm-up for What If? 2, let’s try to answer the questions he listed above, lightning round-style:

People Cheating on Homework

Q. What if I made a pendulum by hanging a rock on a 2.75 meter string? What would its period be in seconds? (Show your work.)

A. Since your homework was probably due a long time ago, I have no qualms about answering this, although I’m not going to bother deriving the entire formula here. By a lucky coincidence, the semi-period of a pendulum on Earth is very close to the square root of its length in meters, within 1%, so the period of this pendulum is 2*sqrt(2.75) = 3.32 seconds.

Medical Advice

Q. What if you got a scratch and the next day your hand looked like this [Attachment]? Should you see a doctor or what?

A. Since I don’t have the picture, I can’t assess it directly, but if you have to ask, the answer is probably yes. (Disclaimer: I am not an MD.)

Personal

Q. Why don’t the squirrels in my yard like me?

A. Um…Are they American red squirrels? Because that kind are territorial. If they’re gray squirrels or Eurasian red squirrels (and you haven’t been throwing things at them or something), then you may need to talk to a sciurologist.

Spam

Q. Do you want to meet lonely singles in your area tonight.

A. As fun as that sounds, I must decline, as I did not just get on the internet yesterday.

Phishing

Q. Have you recently been the victim of phishing? To check, log in to your account by clicking here.

A. Uh…no and no.

Requests for Help with a Crime

Q. Using modern science, what would be the fastest way to get through this bank vault door? [Blueprints.]

A. Well, the fastest way is probably a shaped explosive charge, but that’s probably not going to help you with that apparent crime because it cannot guarantee the safety of the contents of the vault.

Unanswerable

Q. Why am I me and not someone else?

A. …How do you know you’re not?

Vague

Q. What is going to happen? (Be specific.)

A. Given the open-ended question, about the only answer I could give would be to list specific things that are near-100% certain to happen in the future…

♫♪ The sun will come out…tomorrow… ♫♪

Vague and Ominous

Q. Will I have to start worrying about spiders after Tuesday?

AHHHHHHHHH!
(Credit: Russel Watkins, Dept. for International Development, UK.)

A. Unless you’re traveling on Tuesday to a part of the world that has many spiders, it is very unlikely that you will have to worry about them more than usual.

?????

Q. Hi, we’re lonely singles in your area, and we’re wondering what would happen if we shot a nuclear bomb into a volcano! Click here to log in and tell us.

A. Questioner is probably a bot. Also, I already answered this one.

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Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

It’s been three and a half years since the last movie set in the Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. That movie…was kind of a mess. And the state of the fandom has, *ahem* changed significantly since then. And then there were the development problems of the next movie itself. It was delayed by COVID; the main villain was recast from Johnny Depp to Mads Mikkelsen, and no one seems to be quite sure what’s going on with Katherine Waterston, who plays Newt’s love interest, Tina.

But today is finally the (United States) premier of the latest adventure of Newt Scamander and friends: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and I was not about to miss it. Plus, they brought back Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for most of the original Harry Potter films, to help J. K. Rowling with the script, so I was hopeful for a better product this time.

So, how was it?

Not great. My rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Mind you, I thought it was better than Crimes of Grindelwald. I also rated that one 3.5, but in retrospect, I think it deserved lower. But either way, it certainly wasn’t as good as Fantastic Beasts 1.

Major Spoilers Below.

Continue reading
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New Year’s Resolutions Update, April 2022

At the start of the year, I talked about how I was reviving my program of—let’s be honest, they’re not really New Year’s resolutions. That’s not how I’m using them, and for good reason. But anyway, in order to try to improve my writing discipline and other efforts in my life, I will set personal goals for what I want to achieve, and I evaluate and revise them every three months. This seems to be the right amount of time to settle into the routines that do work without getting stuck in ones that don’t.

Well, we’re three months into 2022 now, and I wanted to update you on how I did in January through March. Here the a summary of my goals for 2022 so far:

Write for at least 30 minutes every day. Completion rate: 69%.
Write at least 365,000 words in 2022. Completion rate: 80%.
Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week. Completion rate: 71%.

Clear my entire backlog of books, TV, and movies I want to see from the past 2 years in 2022. Completion rate: not much. I’m working on making a more rigorous schedule, though, as part of it will contribute to Season 2 of my podcast.

Publishing: not set. I’m still considering my options.

Social Media (blog, videos, etc.): not set. I’m still toying with new ideas, and I’ll have more worked out once Season 2 starts.

Conlanging: not a formal goal yet. I nominally got 66% completion on my “stress test.” However, after seeing how these three months went, I think I should fold it into “social media” as a more general category of “visual arts” for any stuff I’m doing outside of writing.

So, those numbers are decent, especially considering how most people tend to do on their New Years’ resolutions. But they’re not great. I was hoping for something more like 90%. What happened? Well, things were going pretty well at first, but then, several things happened in March that threw me off my game pretty badly. I won’t go into that, but suffice to say, I’ve been struggling to get back on track—although I’ve still got more uncertainty coming up in the next couple months. As such, I’m not really changing much right now—just resetting the clock from April 1 to see if I can do better in the next three months. However there is one adjustment I need to make:

Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week, except while traveling.

That was a provision I had included in past years, but it hasn’t been relevant during the pandemic. This year, I’m actually going to conferences again, so I needed to clarify that.

Also, as mentioned above, I need to consolidate two of the other points:

“Social media” goal: removed.
“Conlanging” goal: removed.
“Visual arts” goal: pending.

I’m counting things like non-podcast videos, conlanging, and potential illustrations or diagrams for stories down the road as “visual arts.” I’m not setting a goal for this yet. Instead, I’m going to “stress test” this again to see if I can make steadier progress. And with luck, I’ll have something more solid going by July 1.

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Essay: Harry Potter Theory: Wizards vs. Muggles: Who Would Win?

(That may be a personal record for most colons in one title.)

With the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore this week, I though I would answer the age-old question in the Harry Potter universe: who would win in a fight between the wizards and the muggles?

I teased this essay all the way back in 2018 when I reviewed The Crimes of Grindelwald. I thought about it for a while at the time, but I eventually dropped it because I thought it was too complicated, and the more I thought about it, the less sure I was of the answer. However, I never forgot about it, and over the past year, I’ve thought of a different way to go about it. Rather than trying to solve the whole problem from the beginning, let’s go through the different advantages and disadvantages each side has to try to building up a winning strategy they could use.

And the answer, it turns out, is that it’s complicated, but the muggles seem to have the biggest advantage.

Click here to read the full essay.

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#46 – Science Fiction Today

S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

I interview Dr. Paul Frommer, the creator of the Na'vi language from Avatar as well as Barsoomian from Disney's John Carter. Prospective movie recommendation: Avatar: The Way of Water Dr. Frommer's blog.
  1. S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview
  2. S2E4: Catch-Up Episode #2: Monster Movies
  3. S2E3: Constructed Languages in Science Fiction
  4. S2E2: Catch-Up Episode #1
  5. S2E1: Farah Mendlesohn Interview

In the final episode of Season 1, we explore the state of the science fiction genre in the present day.

Book recommendation: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Worlds Without End’s list of sci-fi classics
Worlds Without End’s customizable list
N. K. Jemisin on the Broken Earth trilogy

Other books discussed:
The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Check out this episode!

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Bonus Episode: More Alternate History

S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

I interview Dr. Paul Frommer, the creator of the Na'vi language from Avatar as well as Barsoomian from Disney's John Carter. Prospective movie recommendation: Avatar: The Way of Water Dr. Frommer's blog.
  1. S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview
  2. S2E4: Catch-Up Episode #2: Monster Movies
  3. S2E3: Constructed Languages in Science Fiction
  4. S2E2: Catch-Up Episode #1
  5. S2E1: Farah Mendlesohn Interview

I missed a few important books in the previous episode on alternate history. Here is an overview of those works.

Recommendation: “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg” by Winston Churchill (yes, really).

Other works discussed:
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy from The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Fallen Axis from this Onion article.
The United Colonies Triumphant from The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove.
Proposed book by Abraham Lincoln from The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, along with remarks in the Southern Victory series.
Insane alternate World War II from this XKCD comic.

Check out this episode!

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#45 – Young Adult Dystopias

S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

I interview Dr. Paul Frommer, the creator of the Na'vi language from Avatar as well as Barsoomian from Disney's John Carter. Prospective movie recommendation: Avatar: The Way of Water Dr. Frommer's blog.
  1. S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview
  2. S2E4: Catch-Up Episode #2: Monster Movies
  3. S2E3: Constructed Languages in Science Fiction
  4. S2E2: Catch-Up Episode #1
  5. S2E1: Farah Mendlesohn Interview

Dystopian fiction has been the core of young adult sci-fi for the past 15 years. In this episode, we explore how they got their start and what makes them so popular.

Book recommendation: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My analysis of Mortal Engines.

Other books discussed:
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Selection by Kiera Cass
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Maximum Ride by James Patterson
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Check out this episode!

Posted in A Reader's History of Science Fiction | 1 Comment

New Video: How to Terraform Venus

I recently wrote a peer-reviewed paper about a speculative way to terraform Venus. I got the idea last summer after Kurzgesagt made a video on the topic. I was originally just going to make a video of my own, but after discussing the idea with some colleagues, I decided to write a full paper on it. That paper has now been published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (may not be listed online yet while their website is being updated). You can read the preprint version of the paper here. And I did also make the video, which you can watch below.

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US Presidents: Corrected Link

I don’t normally make a separate post for corrections. In fact, I think this may be the first time. But I felt the need to do it here because I whiffed this one pretty badly. In my post on the US Presidents in January, I somehow broke the link to the Google Sheet where I actually did the calculations, which kind of negates half the point of the argument. This is the correct link. I’ve also edited it in the original post. (Maybe I need a resources page or something for files like this?)

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#44 – The Children’s Sci-Fi Renaissance

S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

I interview Dr. Paul Frommer, the creator of the Na'vi language from Avatar as well as Barsoomian from Disney's John Carter. Prospective movie recommendation: Avatar: The Way of Water Dr. Frommer's blog.
  1. S2E5: Paul Frommer Interview
  2. S2E4: Catch-Up Episode #2: Monster Movies
  3. S2E3: Constructed Languages in Science Fiction
  4. S2E2: Catch-Up Episode #1
  5. S2E1: Farah Mendlesohn Interview

Children’s science fiction was pretty sparse historically, but it began to take off in the 1990s. In this episode, we explore how sci-fi for kids has changed and expanded over the most recent generation.

Book recommendations:
Middle grade (ages 8-12): Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Chapter books (ages 6-10): Aliens for Breakfast by Stephanie Spinner and Jonathan Etra
Picture books: How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Farah Mendelsohn on children’s sci-fi.
1984 NYTimes article on book fairs.
Frankie Thomas on Animorphs.
K. A. Applegate on reposting her books.

Other books discussed:
My Teacher Is an Alien by Bruce Coville
Animorphs by K. A. Applegate
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Check out this episode!

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